How to Make Your Child Stop Whining
Kids go through multiple phases in which their main form of communication with us is just constant whining about one thing or another. Instead of getting onto them or simply telling them to "stop" a thousand times, here are some other ways to encourage better communication and lessen the overall amount of poorly expressed complaints from your child.
Improving Communication Should Always Be the Goal
Whether you're teaching a little one to speak, teaching a growing child to express themselves better, or calming a stormy teenager down to speak to you instead of scream about everything, the ultimate goal in all of these interactions with your child is to help them communicate better.
Above all else, you should place a heavy emphasis on encouraging your child to calm down when worked up, practice self-awareness and awareness of their situation, and work towards communicating clearly as often as possible. This is something that will not only make decades of parenting far easier but will also greatly benefit them as they grow older and find themselves in a variety of social situation at school, at their future jobs, and in their relationships.
Step 1: Encouraging Them to Calm Down
There are different types of whining and fussing, but when your child is genuinely worked up, it can be far more difficult than usual to figure out what they need, what the problem is, and what a good solution may be. First:
Let them know that you want to help but are having trouble understanding them, so calming down and speaking more clearly will help you help them resolve whatever it is that may be bothering them.
Encourage them to focus on their breathing. Some children get annoyed by this, but you can try saying things like, "I need you to breathe before you speak. If you can hear me, take a deep breath. Get some air into those lungs so you can actually tell me calmly what's going on."
A lot of older kids may be annoyed by this, but my preteen struggles with emotional regulation, and it's been a great tactic that's managed to get embedded into her subconscience after regular practice. Even when she's worked up and deeply upset over something, I can now simply remind her to breathe, and instead of fighting over it, she begins taking deep breaths to slow herself down to be able to talk to me better about what's going on instead of just screeching and crying and remaining inconsolable as well as impossible to translate.
Little kids seem to have mixed responses to these requests, but I've noticed the toddler ages are quick to pick up on how much better things are once they learn to calm down and try their hardest to explain what's bothering them. Once they realize that good communication means far more happy times, you'll be surprised at how much harder they'll work to communicate with you in general.
Step 2: Provide Emotional Support
This should be a no-brainer, but when a child gets overwhelmed, one of the best things you can do is provide emotional support for them during their moments of distress. They may be losing their minds over something as simple forgetting a favorite toy when getting into the car or they may be subconsciously upset about something far more serious that may be going on in the home, at school, or in the world. Provide them with reassurance by doing the following:
Ask your child if they need a hug.
Ask your child if they would like some space to be by themselves, calm down, and avoid further stimulation for a few moments. Some children need snuggles and physical comfort, but some children do better having a few moments of silence and solitude to compose themselves before discussing a problem.
Show them you understand how frustrated, sad, or upset they're feeling. Relate to them and let them know you feel the same emotions too. Let them know that there's nothing wrong with feeling those emotions, but what matters is how you express those feelings once they bubble up.
Empathy is key, and it's an essential part of improving communication with your child. If your kid has a sense of humor, you can even show them examples of how to appropriately respond to situations. Tell them about how badly you wanted a particular cereal at the store, but it was out of stock. Throw a fake hissy fit, dramatically and goofily whining and fussing and being ridiculous, then ask them if that's the appropriate response to the situation. Hopefully, your kid will see how silly the situation is and agree that it's not.
Take this opportunity to explain how you have things that make you irritated sometimes too, but there's no point in reacting so strongly over something that's just part of life. Sometimes, just calmly telling someone you trust how unhappy you are about something can be just as effective at making you feel better when whining and howling are not the right responses.
Step 3: Calmly and Firmly Indicate Boundaries
Once your child has calmed down and it's time to address whatever set off the whining and fit-throwing in the first place, now is the time to set boundaries regarding behavior and communication, too. Here are some things you may want to encourage or discuss with your child during the moments when they're actually willing to listen and learn:
If your child is wanting something impossible or something that you simply will not budge on, you can nicely yet firmly tell them it's an issue on which you are not changing your mind. You are the parent, and you make the rules. They sometimes need to be reminded of this. However, don't be cruel about asserting your dominance. There's a way to be firm and establish yourself as the one running the home and family without making your child feel bad, fearful, or even more upset. Don't be rude to your kid.
Firmly explain to your child that you know how overwhelming emotions can be, but harsh words and actions will not be tolerated and are not appropriate. Offer to show them some better ways to express themselves.
If they won't drop a certain issue even after calming down and speaking to you about what's going on, you completely reserve the right to tell them that you're done discussing the person/place/thing and would like to talk about something else. You don't have to spend hours rehashing a topic just because it's your child.
There is a lot you can add to this section depending on what exactly is causing your child to whine and fuss in the first place, so these are just some general recommendations. The best way to help in this case is to make sure that rules and expectations are very clear in the home so there's no risk of genuine confusion in your child about what they can and cannot do or have. It's also best to make sure you emphasize what types of speech and behavior are also deemed appropriate or not within your household and make sure you're setting a good example for them yourself as well.
Step 4: Make a Plan to Avoid Future Whining Situations
One of the best ways to stop a child whining is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This will be an ongoing battle with your child for many years in most cases, so it's good to start early. Here are some things you can do:
Explain to your child that asking for things kindly is more likely to get them the results they are hoping for, but everyone still reserves the right to say "no" to them, and they should respect when others decline.
Encourage the use of good manners instead of making strong demands. No one likes a bossy tyrant.
Let them know to tell you when something is genuinely important to them (the key word being "genuinely" here) so that you know when to pay extra attention to what they're saying and what's on their mind.
Encourage them to use a "strong voice" when feeling intense emotions, but to remain as clear as possible so you are able to know when they are upset but can help them with the situation more promptly instead of trying to figure out what all of the fussing and whining means.
Tell them to always make sure to get your attention, have you confirm that they have it, and THEN speak about the issue. It's only going to cause more frustration if they're trying to tell you something but you're on the phone or driving and can't give them your full attention. My favorite practice is to get my girls to "look at me" and make full eye contact, then we can proceed with any important conversations once we're both focused.
These concepts may not always stick at first, but with regular practice, your child should eventually begin to understand and test out the methods to see if you really will communicate better in response to them when they use them. Always point out when you've noticed them using their new skills and praise them for working hard on communicating better and responding appropriately to situations.
Still Having Trouble?
Kids will take time to regulate their emotions, learn to communicate, and eventually comprehend that acting wild and foolish in response to most things is not appropriate nor beneficial. However, there may also be some other issues to consider discussing with a specialist or pediatrician if emotional regulation and an inability to communicate well persist for a significant period of time without improvement.
There are numerous mental health conditions that can contribute to a child struggling with their emotions and reacting inappropriately to situations, and there can also be physical health concerns that may impact this as well.
If your child is struggling to control themselves despite all attempts to help teach and show them the correct ways to express themselves and navigate social situations, it may be in your best interests to speak to a trusted physician to rule out any behavioral, mental, or physical concerns that could be impacting their social development.